Letters: All aboard for passenger rail

Johnson City Press • Nov 9, 2018 at 12:00 AM

In a recent Question of the Week, we asked for your thoughts on a proposal to bring Amtrak’s passenger rail service to the Tri-Cities. We received so many responses we had to split them up into two separate rounds of the Forum.

It’s already got local support

Early in 2009, the Washington County Commission and several other local government entities sent a resolution to our congressional delegation (Rep. Roe, Sens. Alexander and Corker). It petitioned their support for a federal transportation demonstration grant. The grant was to aid in a study of the economic and environmental life-cycle cost and benefits, and viability, of adding a rail line for both through trucks and passengers to the I-81/I-40 interstate corridor.

The resolution noted that “rail provides reduced dependence on imported fuel, enhances national security, and — when electrified — offers the U.S. an opportunity to employ domestic renewable energy sources and efficiency to drive transportation.”

It noted the many advantages in services to communities, from much-reduced cost over constant road building and widening, to tourism and economic growth, air quality and public health, and great reduction in the greenhouse gas emissions which drive global warming.

As one of the many people of Northeast Tennessee who lack mobility options for long-distance travel, I strongly encourage the new effort by the mayor of Bristol to get Amtrak rail service extended to Tennessee. Indeed, as this paper’s editorial of 10/26 holds out, the possibilities from being “connected to 21,000 miles of track in 46 states” are most enticing.

When some German visitors were here a few years ago, we traveled by car to Washington, D.C., thence by Amtrak to New York City, along the eastern shore — partly to show the Europeans that we, too, have passenger train service, as well as to see the tourism sights in the big city, for several days.

I hope that our local governments will support rail service again and the feasibility study needed now.


A desired travel option

I fully support the Amtrak service extension to Bristol. I am a resident in Bluff City and am a business traveler. My options are to drive or fly where my business takes me.

The flights out of the Tri-Cities Airport are some of the most expensive around due to their fees. Adding a train option will provide competition to the TRI and provide access to our community to the Northeast corridor.

I also believe advantages of extending a line from Bristol through Knoxville, Chattanooga and ultimately Atlanta would be incredibly beneficial.

Let’s take Washington, D.C., as an example. An expanded line connecting Bristol to D.C. would allow our students to travel by train into the capital. As a business traveler, I often drive to D.C. Parking alone at most hotels is $40-$50 per night. I could purchase a round trip ticket to D.C. on the train for most likely two nights worth of parking.

The train would be a great option for our community and extending the train south would provide even more benefit.

Bluff City

Why not?

Why not? I could think of no reason not to support the effort. So I researched the question a little bit and discovered that Amtrak loses money every year, mostly due to its long-distance routes. The routes in the Northeast corridor are profitable. So I can understand that we might not want to put money into a losing proposition.

However, I realized that our Interstate highway system does not make a profit. It is underwritten by the federal government. The same is true of airports. The highways and airports in this country are a public service. So why single out Amtrak for criticism?

One last thing: Air travel today is profoundly annoying. And Amtrak is installing very fast Wi-Fi.

I say support Amtrak.

Johnson City

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